Agile Teams as Hotspots

Over the past few weeks I have visited a number of our clients to discuss how their Agile Enablements are progressing.  For me, it has been a hugely enjoyable experience to see and hear of the transformations taking place and the energy and value that has been created.  However, often it is not the response from the teams that is most telling of progress, rather the reaction of senior managers.  The reason that I say this is that senior managers get more than they bargained for by embarking on their agile journey.  The normal promise for any improvement in delivering software is Faster, Better and Cheaper, and most people have learned to live with improvement along one dimension against a trade-off along the others.  However, after only spending from as little as a few weeks to a couple of months with a coach learning the basics of running an agile team the key difference that people notice is the energy and drive of the people involved.  This is when the reaction of the senior managers brings a smile to my face.  They claim that their teams seem to be having fun.  Fun at work!?  How can this be?

Every person seemed to have a renewed interest in the value that they are delivering for their business partners and customers.  This is a repeating pattern that we find when we coach teams.  It has to be more than the Hawthorne Effect.

Is having fun an acceptable practice at work?

It got me thinking about the work Lynda Gratton has done on Hot Spots.  Her book is about how groups of people can come together to deliver amazing results.  It’s a book that explores “Why some companies buzz with energy and innovation – and others don’t”. She starts the book by saying that you know when you’re in a hot spot.

“You feel energized and vibrantly alive.  Your brain is buzzing with ideas and the people around you share your joy and excitement.”

This is what the senior managers were describing to me and I wanted to find out how the lessons and practices described in the book compare to and support agile.

Throughout the book the following equation is referred to:

Hot Spots = (Cooperative Mindset x Boundary Spanning x Igniting Purpose) x Productive Capacity

Bringing together and fostering cooperation that spans across and beyond organisational boundaries to work on a problem that supports a brighter vision of the future seems like a reasonable recipe for success, and the book explores a lot of examples and practices that support this.  However, it was the final element of the equation, Productive Capacity, that really piqued my interest in regards to the comparison with agile.  5 practices were identified that described how teams could increase their productivity and support more complex Hot Spots:-
1.    Appreciating Talents
2.    Making Commitments
3.    Resolving Conflicts
4.    Synchronizing Time
5.    Establishing a Rhythm

When I read on to understand these practices in a bit more detail I realised that these directly complement agile practices and principles.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Running an agile team (correctly!) directly supports the Productive Capacity practices required to create a Hot Spot.  Agile brings together people across organisational boundaries who have often not interacted in any meaningful way before.  This is the first step to appreciating other people’s talents.  The basic agile framework describes a number of key ceremonies that:

  1. get everyone making commitments publicly and not having commitments thrust upon the team through Release Planning and Iteration Planning (One volunteer is worth ten pressed men);
  2. synchronize everyone’s times to ensure participation in all the key planning and feedback sessions such as Show and Tells, Retrospectives, Planning games and Stand Ups;
  3. and establishes a cadence for releasing solutions.

The final link between agile and the practices behind Productive Capacity is in resolving conflicts – this can sometimes be the hardest part.  Running a project in an iterative way that is ‘planning driven’ and takes constant feedback will highlight problems (or opportunities) – daily.  It is the job of the team to address these problems and remove blockers.  Conflicts will arise and must be tackled.  These problems have always existed – agile highlights them.  The best teams that I have seen embrace the feedback and work together to resolve conflicts to continually improve.  When you can combine these practices with agile’s non-negotiable approach to quality you get really amazing results.

There are many examples of Hot Spots in her book – some of them are IT related, but most of them are not.  The Agile Values – communication, feedback, simplicity, courage and respect – supports a company’s ability to bring together high performing teams that create Hot Spots of innovation and performance.  If you could really have Faster, Better and Cheaper being delivered by people who are energised, motivated and committed to achieving your goals, wouldn’t you do it this way?  I know a number of organisations who believe the answer to this question is now a resounding ‘Yes’.

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